Education: 4 big cultural differences between English and Asian students

Deep dive into how students in China consistently top league tables.

By Nuzhah Miah

Report 4 May 2021
Education Students in Grass
Cultural Differences in Education

Education in China

While we are now in our longest national lockdown, Chinese restaurants and bars have been re-opened for while now and it seems that they have successfully taken control of the virus in their country. China always seems to have much more efficient ways of tackling complex problems and it’s no different when it comes to studying. With academic workload about to enter one of its peaks with deadlines and exams starting, I thought it would be useful to look at aspects of Chinese life that aid their success that we can transfer into our own beyond just a much more advanced curriculum.

1- Culture of education

Asian children from a very young age are instilled with a strong work ethic and respect for education. Even if they aren’t motivated to study or focused, out of respect, most students will avoid harassing teachers and distracting their classmates. It is common for students to barely speak to each other during classes without discipline from teachers to do so.

Outside the classroom, libraries are packed with students as young as ten silently self-studying almost every day. In this way, it is a social norm to spend so much time studying rather than how it is in the U.K something only a minority of students do. Arguably this creates less mental resistance to not study. Chinese students aren’t hit with FOMO the way U.K students often do since everyone is staying in and studying anyway.

2- Emphasis on health and fitness

While most UK students have only a timetable of physical activity once every fortnight and none after 16, Chinese schools often have morning stretches before class. It is also practised daily in offices across the country as well.

In recent years there has been a boom in exercise with many competitive universities tracking individual students’ physical activity with certain levels of physical fitness required to qualify for graduation alongside their grades. For example, students at top university Tsinghua have to show that they can swim at least 50 metres before they are eligible for graduation. Moreover, the east Asian diet is also primarily vegetarian, meat is not the focus of the meal the way it is in the U.K  and their school dinners also reflect this. As a result, their meals are much more nutritional and protein-based giving students fuel concentration for long hours.

3- Average of 12hrs of studying

It is very common for students to come in before timetabled lessons (which already start at around 7:30 am) and work on their homework and revision. This makes sense as schools typically finish at around 5 pm with many students then being rushed to what are known as cram schools (sometimes private or offered by the school) where they receive more specialised tuition. These are optional but are the norm in attendance by most students.

The most competitive students spend up to 5hrs in these cram schools. This has been recognised as extreme and in South Korea, there is a government-imposed curfew of 10 pm on these schools to regulate them as parents are more than willing to let their children spend as much time there available. In this way, there is no surprise that these students do so well arguably if any person spent that much time studying they will of course at least pass exams.

My key takeaway from this cultural practice is the value of discipline rather than the extreme working hours. Chinese students are much more resilient and adopt the growth set mentality. If they are unable to grasp something they spend the time necessary to do so and believe they are all capable. This is very different from the structure of the U.K system in practice. Students are separated into ‘sets’ from as young as Year 7  to make it easier for them to keep up in lessons not to mention separating students into gifted and talented and non.

The U.K. approach normalises students into thinking if they struggle with something it’s because their abilities are capped since they are not in the top set or gifted and talented especially when school work becomes challenging for them. In the eastern culture, however, struggling is perceived as a positive thing as it is seen as an opportunity to overcome a challenge which is seen as key to building your character as an intelligent individual.

4- Psychological Study on Cultural Differences.

Although the study was on American students and Japanese students, James Stigler a professor of psychology at UCLA gave kids aged 6 and 7 from the respective countries a maths problem way beyond their capabilities. The American kids gave up almost immediately whereas the Japanese kids spent almost an hour trying to tackle the question. Encapsulating the distinct values that separate western and eastern approaches to learning.

We have a small revision guidebook coming in the following weeks! Share with your friends and let us know on our socials, how many people have signed up! We’ll be giving away free prizes both educational and tech!


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